History of the English Bible (Geneva)

Queen Mary “Bloody Mary” dies at 42 years old in 1558. With her death, the Roman Catholic Church would lose its grip on England. She was so vicious and hateful even Roman Catholics were ashamed to be Roman Catholics under her reign. Needless to say, “Bloody Mary” would cause the pendulum to swing the other way. For the next 70 years after her death the Roman Catholic Church is starved out. Both Queen Elizabeth followed by King James would be openly generous and gracious toward publishing English scriptures. In this political climate English Bibles would be mass produced without opposition for years. With Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne, and her rule for the next 45 years, England exited the Dark Ages. There had been a demand for English Bibles for 150 years and now there would be no opposition to them.

Geneva is not in England, but Switzerland. It was the hub of the Swiss Reformation because of the freedom and ability to publish there. It was also the place many protestant English sought refuge during the reign of Bloody Mary.

Technical improvements

  • Technical improvements afforded by the new refreshing political atmosphere. It is one thing to publish the scriptures under the shadow of death. And the motive of simply getting the scriptures into the hands of the people. It’s quite another thing when that ominous shadow is removed. Even under King Henry VIII who licensed the Great Bible there was not freedom to make some of these technical improvements. There would now be some thoughtful changes.
  • The Geneva Bible of 1560 was the first English “study” Bible. In some ways that would be helpful and other ways not so helpful.
  • Verse markings were put in the Geneva Bible. A Swiss New Testament produced by Robert Estienne (Stephanus) started doing this in 1551. It was adopted into the Geneva Bible and proved to be extremely helpful.
  • Words were italicized that were implied in translation.
    • Example: “tengo 20 anos” translates to “I am 20 years old.” What was said in 3 words in Spanish took 5 words in English to say.
    • Psalm 12:5 …I will set in safety puffeth at him. Without the italicized words you’re missing some pronouns and prepositions that were implied in the Hebrew Old Testament. 
  • Words were printed in clean Roman font instead of the ornate and heavy Gothic font.

Study helps added

  • Concordances were also put into the Geneva Bible.
  • Certain tables were put into the Geneva Bible.
  • Many notes were inserted to explain the scriptures. In some places those notes took up more space on a page than the actual scripture.
    • John Calvin and his seminary were the source of these notes as they were also the ones publishing the Geneva Bible. While some notes may be alright, others were distinctly “Calvinistic.”
    • Example of Calvin’s theology inserted: “The gift of faith proceedeth from the free election of the Father in Christ, after which followeth necessarily everlasting life.”
    • Revelation 16:2 notes: This was like the sixth plague of Egypt, which was sores and boils or pocks: and this reigneth commonly among Canons, monks, friars, nuns, priests, and such filthy vermin which bear the mark of the beast.

Rival scriptures

  • The political atmosphere in England was now open to English Bibles. The Geneva Bible was a clear attempt at persuading readers through notes and commentary.
  • Bishop’s Bible (1568)
    • With this newfound liberty with English Bibles people felt the liberty to publish their own translations if they disagreed with previous work.
    • Matthew Parker, the chaplain of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s wife. Park became Archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England under Queen Elizabeth I.
    • Parker wasn’t that interested in the scriptures for the ploughboy as Tyndale said. Parker was more about scriptures for the bishop’s in the Church of England.
      • Parker was unsettled by the popularity of the Geneva Bible and the Great Bible’s falling into obscurity.
      • Parker was further unsettled by the fact that the Geneva Bible was printed in Switzerland.
      • Aside from all the notes in the Geneva Bible, it was almost universally understood that the actual translation work was the best of any English Bible.
    • The Bishop’s Bible would never really catch on and replace the Geneva Bible though.
  • Douay Rheims Roman Catholic New Testament (1582)
    • Certain Roman Catholic priests saw a need to change tactics. Certain priests set out to make their own Roman Catholic English Bible.
    • Gregory Martin was the priest who would lead this endeavor.
    • It would be translated from the old Roman Catholic Latin Vulgate, not the vast number of manuscripts available.
    • This translation was doomed from the beginning because of the Roman Catholic religion itself. Roman Catholics are taught to believe priests, not Bibles. So there would never be a demand from Roman Catholic congregations for a Roman Catholic translation.

Geneva Editions

  • The Geneva Bible would go through 180 editions in less than a century.
  • By 1600 there had been thirteen full English Bibles (not just New Testaments) published from the time of the Lollards. Not all Bibles had influence and not all were motivated the same.
    • 1388 Lollards did complete the Bible after Wyclif died. But it was short lived.
    • 1390 Nicolas de Hareford
    • 1535 Myles Coverdale
    • 1537 Thomas Matthews
    • 1537 James Nicholson
    • 1539 Great Bible
    • 1539 Richard Taverner
    • 1549 Anonymous
    • 1553 Richard Jugge
    • 1560 Geneva
    • 1568 Bishops’
    • 1599 Tomson-Junius
  • Geneva became the main English Bible until 1611. The only other Bible wasn’t near it in circulation, but was the Bishops’ Bible. Geneva was so loaded with notes it would influence the reader whether they wanted it to or not. And the Bishops’ Bible was not as accessible to the public and there were a few known translation issues with it. These were a couple of reasons presented and accepted by King James when he licensed another English translation.